Darwin-L Message Log 2:6 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<2:6>From LARRYS@psc.plymouth.edu  Fri Oct  1 15:40:33 1993

Date: Fri, 01 Oct 1993 16:45:23 -0500 (EST)
From: LARRYS@psc.plymouth.edu
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

I have been following the questions on language evolution with great
interest.  As someone who tried and partially succeeded in learning Mandarin
Chinese on his own, you might expect I am interested in the topic.

The comment I have to add is as follows.  This past year there was an article
in Natural History Magazine (or perhaps Discover) about the demise of the
aborigines that lived in Tasmania.  In that article the author mentioned that
roughly 10,000 years ago the Tasmanians were cut off from the rest of the
Australians by the change in sea level and as they lacked suitable boats to
cross the strait, their culture was essentially isolated until the arrival
of the Europeans.  At time a number of curiosities were observed, one being
that the inhabitants ate very little food from the marine environment and
lacked methods of obtaining such items.  In a sense a cultural attribute
was lost from the society never to be regained.  In a metaphorical sense
similar events have been proposed to explain the origin of floral and
faunal groups, i.e., a small subset of organisms arrives at some distant
location and through random demise of some individuals carrying certain
genetic information, that information is lost from the population and
therefore not available for selection to work on.  Getting around to my
question, is enough known about the Tasmanian language to determine
whether their language changed in the same way that their culture changed?

Larry Spencer

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